You can tell a lot about a person by the way he walks. You can tell the kind of mood he is in. If you could have seen these followers of Jesus on their outward journey from Jerusalem and seen them again on their return trip, you would have known that something had happened. There was a spring in their step.
It was many years after our children were grown that I learned they had a special name for the way I used to walk during our vacations. Vacation time was the only time I wore sneakers. That, plus the exhilaration of not having to go to work, gave a certain spring to my step. I learned years later my children called it "the vacation bounce." They knew good times were ahead when they saw Dad walking with the vacation bounce.
There was a spring in the step of these disciples of the Lord after they had seen Him. They found a new way of walking. Going out to Emmaus, they were dragging their feet. Going back, they walked with vigor and joy.
Then there was also something new about the way they walked because they traveled slowly on the way out from Jerusalem, discussing their disappointment. When they had seen the risen Lord, they came back with haste. They hurried with the good news.
They learned a new way of walking. Paul said, "If you are risen with Christ seek those things which are above." The resurrected Christ leads us to walk in new paths, to walk in His footsteps. All of it is symbolized in a simple fact. Before they met the risen Lord, they were facing west toward the sunset. After having met the risen Lord, they were facing east toward the sunrise. All Moslem mosques, wherever they are in the world, face Mecca. It used to be that every synagogue faced Jerusalem. We don't worry about the orientation of the building, but the orientation of life is terribly significant. We are facing east. We are facing the sunrise. We are facing the dawning of a new day.
On their outward journey from Jerusalem, they were talking in the past tense - "We had hoped," they said, "that He would redeem Israel." Until they knew that the resurrection was real, all their religion was in the past tense. There are a great many people whose religion is altogether in the past. They will tell you of all the wonderful things that have happened in the days gone by. They have no enthusiasm for the present and no hope for the future. They are just like these disciples who had not yet met the risen Lord. All of their religion was in the past tense, but when they knew Jesus had come back from the dead, they changed their way of talking. It came out of the past tense into the present tense and into the future. That's where we must live and work in the present tense with an eye on the future. Before they met the risen Christ, they talked about their doubts. Doubt is a common thing. Even among those who believe there are transient doubts, but these disciples that were speaking of their doubts on their outward journey were speaking of their faith on the return journey.
Whatever doubts may come to take up temporary residence in our hearts, the theme of our conversation must not be our doubts but our faith. One thing was not changed in their conversation. The subject was the same on both journeys: Jesus Christ. When you lift up Christ, nobody can criticize Him. People criticize the church, but when you lift up Christ, they have nothing to say. Everyone must agree with Pontius Pilate, "I find no fault in him." Let Christ be the subject of our conversation, our teaching, our preaching, our singing, and everything we do.
These disciples learned a new way of walking. They learned a new way of talking. They learned a new way of thinking. When they met Christ on the road, they did not recognize Him. Many explanations have been offered for this. Some have said that since they were facing the setting sun, the sun blinded their eyes. Some say they were still weeping over a lost cause and through their tears they did not recognize Christ. Some people say that the resurrected Christ looked different than the Christ they had known during His ministry. In fact, it was a miracle that Jesus performed. He performed it for a very significant purpose. He did not want their faith to rest on the foundation of experience. He wanted it to rest on the foundation of Scripture. When He got through explaining the Scriptures to them, they believed in the resurrection. It was before their eyes were opened! Their faith rested on the Word of God. That's the foundation for our faith, too. It is not our experience but the Word of God.
On a snowy night in Budapest, Hungary, after I had
taught for about two hours, a young lady came up from the back. Through
the interpreter she introduced herself to me. I will change her name.
She said. "My name is Juanita and I am a Communist." Now, nobody
ever before looked me in the eye and said, "I am a Communist." It
was a rather startling experience. She was from Cuba. She had
come to study in Hungary, but lately some events that happened in her life
caused her to wonder if there might be a God. To be a Communist,
you must be an atheist. It is absolutely required everywhere except in
the United States and Great Britain. She said, "My mother and father
are Communists," but lately some events had caused her to wonder if there
might be a God.
I was standing there wondering what to say. I had one chance and only one. It was late. It was getting dark. It was snowing. I had miles to travel. I knew that I had only a few minutes and I did not know what to say. So, I fell back upon something that I had been teaching that very day from the book of Romans. "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." I said, "You must read the Bible. Don't worry about the parts you don't understand, just read it, and as you read it, ask yourself, 'Is it possible that it is true?" She thought that she didn t want to do that. She just wanted to wait and see what other experiences might lead her to think that there was a God. I said, "No, you must read the Bible. Don't worry about the parts you don't understand. Just read it, and you will come to faith." I don't know if I gave her the right answer or not. When I left she was still there chatting with the believers. It's cold in the Communist world in more ways than one and she was enjoying the warmth of Christian fellowship, but I believe I gave her the right answer. No one had richer spiritual experiences than the apostle Paul, yet he said, "Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God." No one had richer spiritual experiences than Peter, yet when he spoke of them he went on to say that we should rely upon the word of God (1 Peter 1:17-19).
Jesus wanted their faith to rest on Scripture, not on experience. He wants our doctrine to rest on Scripture and not on experience. Often I talk with people whose experiences are not identical to what you read in the New Testament. I do not propose to question their experience. I do question that we should build our doctrine on their experience or on my experience or your experience or anybody else's experience. Let us build our doctrine on the Word of God.
Jesus wanted their enthusiasm to rest on the Word of God. "Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the Scriptures?" This is the source of our enthusiasm. We cannot just drum up enthusiasm. Enthusiasm that is worked up cheerleader style will not endure. A pep rally is not enough for those who would march in the Lord's army. We have to have an enthusiasm that is built on the Word of God.
That is why He would not let them recognize Him until first He could explain the Scriptures. When He had explained the Scripture, their eyes were opened and they knew that it was He. So, they discovered a new way of thinking and a new way of living. For now they lived as men who had a destiny. They knew when they left Jerusalem their destination. It was the village of Emmaus. They did not know yet their destiny. They thought, they wondered, they hoped but after having learned the Scriptures from the Lord, they knew that they had a destiny.
That's a wonderful question somebody asked. "Where are you going to be when you get where you're going?" Oh, how I would like to ask that question of the people who race up and down our highways - "Where are you going to be when you get where you are going?" Well, some of us are going home. Thank God, some of us are going home.
It's fascinating to consider how many of the great dramatic events of the Bible occurred on the highway. We can almost borrow a little phrase from Charles Kuralt and talk about, "On the Road with Jesus Christ." On the road someday you perhaps will chance to meet Him, too. Will your eyes be open that you will know Him? Will you listen as He opens to you the Scripture? Will you have an enthusiasm, an understanding, and a faith that is built on the Word of God?
We had in our church in Largo, Florida, a delightful
Christian man who had spent years as a carny man. Chick Wagner started
out as a boxer in the little carnivals that went around from county fair
to county fair in Ohio and Indiana. He had a cauliflower ear to prove
it. Then he rode a motorcycle in the Drome of Death. After
that he had a little concession where you could try your luck at shooting
a basketball into a goal. In Indiana and Ohio all those young farm
boys think that they can do that very well. For thirty years he traveled
on the road every summer. The rest of the year he was in Florida
and he was in our church. When he was on the road he was in church,
too, and would often send me a bulletin from somewhere never a word, never
a letter, never a return address on the envelope. I would just get
a church bulletin from somewhere in Ohio or somewhere in Indiana, and I
knew that Chick Wagner had been there. Every spring when he left,
he would ask my wife to sing, "When I've Gone the Last Mile of the Way."
He did that every year. One year, on the highway, on his way to a
county fair, he had a little problem with the trailer. He pulled
off to the side of the road, had a heart attack and died - on the road.
He had gone the last mile of the way. He had not traveled it alone!